EU to vote on trade deal ratification on 26 April, amid tensions over vaccines and Northern Ireland

Wed 24 Mar 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

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The European Parliament will vote to ratify the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement on 26 April, five days before the extended deadline expires, its leader has said.

Ratification is the final step before the agreement legally comes into full force on both sides of the Channel.

It has been provisionally implemented by the EU since 1 January, while the British parliament ratified the deal at the end of last year.

No extension

Speaking to Politico, European Parliament president David Sassoli said “there will be no extension” to the 30 April deadline.

The vote will take place at a plenary session on the 26 April and MEPs are expected to vote in favour of ratification, he said.

NI tensions

The vote will come amid rising tensions between the UK and EU over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol and the vaccine rollout.

The British government made a unilateral decision to extend grace periods for the implementation of sanitary checks on agrifood goods in Northern Ireland earlier this month.

Despite launching legal action against the UK for the alleged breach of the NI protocol, the EU is keen to resolve ongoing tensions, the Guardian reports

Flexibility

Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney said the EU could show flexibility if the UK produced a road map on how to ease trade friction while adhering to its commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

He was speaking after meeting European Commission president Maros Sefcovic, who co-chairs the EU-UK join committee for implementing the Protocol alongside Lord David Frost.

Coveney said the EU would look for detail on issues such as the completion of border control posts at Larne and Belfast ports as well as the provision of real-time data on goods entering NI from GB.

Vaccine block

Tensions also continue to rise over the trade of vaccines as the EU prepares to tighten its export rules.

Proposals, seen by the FT, would widen the basis for stopping shipments to countries that import from the EU but refuse to export their own production.

The proposals are due to be discussed this week and could be used to block export to countries with higher vaccination rates than the EU – including the UK.

No trade war

PM Boris Johnson has said that the UK does not believe in using “blockades of any kind”, reports the Standard.

“All I can say is we in this country don’t believe in blockades of any kind of vaccines or vaccine materials,” he told a Downing Street press conference.

He ruled out the possibility of Britain engaging in a tit-for-tat vaccine war with the European Union.

WTO weighs in

He was backed in his stance by new WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Reuters reports.

Speaking at a WTO online event, she said: “while we understand the politics of what they are doing - I have said openly I am disappointed, particularly in the fact that they extended it from March.”

She added that any new or extended export restrictions must be temporary.